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Shoulder Alignment: The Mechanics (1)

Shoulder tension is often a problem for people when learning Tai Chi or Qigong; in fact, it’s probably a problem for everybody, whether they are learning Tai Chi or not. I do not recall being told how to position the shoulders correctly by any of my teachers; it’s been something I’ve had to discover for myself. Odd really, because I would have thought it was pretty fundamental.

Shoulder position

One of the main problems is that it’s very hard to know where the shoulders ought to sit in relation to the rest of the body, and the majority of people appear to have a tendency towards collapsing the shoulders forwards (stress, computers, phones). This puts a strain on the upper back, which people try to correct by pulling their shoulders backwards. This causes tension in the back as the shoulder blades try to pull together to open up the front.

An exercise

There is a simple exercise that you can try which aligns the shoulders correctly:

  1. Lift your shoulders up towards your ears, and then pull them firmly backwards; it doesn’t matter how far back you pull them.

  2. Next, lower your shoulders very gently so that the outside edges of the shoulders lower directly on to the outside edges of the hips, as though sliding downwards vertically into grooves on the lateral aspects of the left & right hipbones.

If your shoulders already sit in the correct place on your body, you are not going to feel anything. If they do not sit correctly, for example, if you normally seat them forward with the chest slightly collapsed, you may feel a number of things…

What you might feel

  1. There may be a pulling or an ache under (or even on top of) the collarbone possibly even to the ends of the collarbone. This feeling might travel down the arms slightly.

  2. You might experience tightness across the chest or in the breastbone.

  3. There may be a temporary slight loss of breath as the lungs open.

Allow this to happen and, when it’s settled, repeat the exercise a few times by lifting and settling the shoulders again.  I have found that the body learns the right place quite quickly, and the correct alignment becomes natural.  A particularly good time to do this is first thing in the morning when seated on the edge of the bed (assuming that the bed isn’t too low) partly because it takes the legs out of the equation, but mainly because, if you sleep on your side, the chest may have been ‘folded’ slightly. However you may find that it works equally well when standing.

Be aware

When pulling the shoulders back, be careful not to tense the neck. It’s very easy to involve the neck which ideally should be left out!

___________________________________________________ James Drewe teaches Tai Chi and Qigong in both London and in Kent and online, and there are a number of free videos available as well as ‘subscription classes‘. Details of weekly classes both live and online can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Tai Chi on one Saturday a month.

CONTACT: Email: Phone: 07836-710281 ___________________________________________________

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